April 7, 2009

Sleepless in scarsville

5 am: I’ll take an ineffectual codeine-laced suppository and try to go back to sleep.

It’s not pain in the sense of sharp jabs or undulating waves. It’s being the Wife of Frankenstein whose face has been stitched onto her skull one stitch at a time. It pulls. All the nurses warned me that it would pull and were they ever right.

There is numbness around my mouth. Yesterday Nando said, "Don’t try to talk to me. All you can do is mumble and I don’t understand you."

Under my neck it pulls. Around my jowls (which are supposed to disappear anyway but who knows, as the bottom of my face is covered from cheek to neck) it pulls some more. Around my ears it pulls and also aches, as if the ears had been punched. My lower eyelids feel sore, but not much. My upper eyelids don’t feel as if they have been touched. But Dr. Delos had talked about doing a lot of cutting on them, so why don’t they hurt? And where are the scars for that?

March 29, 2009

Blood lines

My two thick wrinkle lines that had stretched from nose to mouth had been replaced by two red lines. My eyes had red streaks beneath them, some crumbles of (I supposed) dried blood and they were pulled. I thought, "I don’t want them to look so pulled when I get better." Blue bruises above the eyes but I still saw the traces of all that overhanging flesh Dr. Delos had called attention to, that he had intended to eliminate. If it is still there now, where is it going to go a month from now?

March 27, 2009

Snow White . . . NOT

So naturally I went into the bathroom to check. Nothing to pass out about. Nothing as upsetting as the sight of a needle. But no Miss America contender either. Yes, ET was a good description. A fluffy cotton snow cap that trundled down from the top of my head and over my ears and down bordering the left and right sides of my mouth (unsmiling, because I still couldn’t smile due to the numbing effect of the anesthesia). It extended below my chin and covered more than half of my neck. The ends were tucked away at the back of my head somewhere.

I don’t know where most of my hair was but part of it stuck out of an opening in the top of my head at the back.

March 22, 2009

ET, pee, and me

4:10 am. I have to get up to pee again and now I can’t get back to sleep. It’s not the pain exactly because I can’t say precisely what the "pain" is. I do feel like my head has gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson and Nando says he feels the same. My surgery was only 3.5 hours, not 4 as originally anticipated, and that’s good. The anesthesiologist, arrogant as he is, must know his stuff. Whatever he had given Nando to make him feel like a jolly pepperone, it’s like the scene in "When Harry met Sally": I want whatever he ordered!

That evening and the next morning, Nando asked me several times how he looked. Like a raccoon. Dark half moons under his eyes and dark above them. A thin line of what had to be blood along his lower eyelids. Stitches? I couldn’t see them. The rest of his face unchanged. Actually quite lovely; his skin relaxed and firm, his forehead unwrinkled.

"And how do I look?"

"Oh, you don’t want to know." He had inspected himself in the mirror but didn’t think I’d be inclined to do the same. Blonde young nurse also advised against it.

"You look like ET right now. You should wait a few days."

March 20, 2009

Let it pee

Same day: 8:20 pm: I realize I am conscious. I get up, wanting to pee. I want to make it to the bathroom unassisted so I hold onto the salmon walls as I go along, and I succeed in making the long trip on my own. Nando is awake and asking, "What time is it? Is it 4:30 pm or 8:30 pm?"

The importance of his diabetic condition cuts through my confusion and I ask him, "Do you need to take your shot?" I call the nurse. It is now 8:30 pm. Nando has salmon (to match the walls?) and spinach. I am given orange juice but am allowed only one glass. A second glass might make me throw up, advises the nurse.

March 15, 2009

The operation

At about noon Blondie came in and said, "Now it’s your turn." It felt very unhospital-like to trot after her in my bare feet and my little white babydoll nightgown. Shouldn’t I be on a stretcher or at least a wheelchair? We walked the few steps across the hall to the operating block and I obediently lay down on the operating table. That was already a gas; how often do you get to WALK to your own operation?

I don’t recall Dr. Delos being in the room, though he may have been. The anesthesiologist was on my right and he asked me to hold out my arm. I knew what was coming; I welcomed the anesthesia (considering the alternative), but felt obliged to tell them about my psychological aversion to needles. "You should know I have a problem with needles. I faint when I see them. So I will look the other way." He gave me a piqueur. The nurse said, "Now really that didn’t hurt so much." I agreed but pointed out that psychological reactions are beyond our direct control and have little to do with "pain". That’s all I remember.

March 13, 2009

Tension and trauma

From then on, the car ride, the interlude in Monaco, the arrival in Marseille, we had both been calm. Except I noticed Nando had been acting more harshly to me, more critical, more impatient than he had been for several months. I asked him if he had been advised not to take his anti-depressant these final pre-op days. Oh no, he had continued to take them, he said.

So I figured this hostility was his way of releasing his tension. "Why do the traumas of the people nearest you always bring out the worst in you? It’s supposed to be the opposite: when the worst happens, it often brings out the best in people. Not you though."

March 11, 2009

The calm before the surgery

Blondie had asked me if I wanted something to sleep this morning since I wouldn’t be operated on till about noon. I had declined. "I guess I’ll be sleeping all afternoon. So it’s better to take advantage of the time now while I still feel okay." I’d rather feel like myself as long as possible before the operation. Besides, I wasn’t scared, more anxious and curious than else. I was actually feeling calm about the whole thing. Was it the pill under my tongue? My worst bout of tension so far had been leaving Homer in the kennel, wondering whether HE might need plastic surgery upon my return.

March 9, 2009

Dog dry afternoon

Nando was complaining about his mouth being very dry. I had a flash of waiting in a recovery room somewhere (after the dog attack in France? when my wrist was broken and reset in Monaco?) and having the same sensation. Dry block for a tongue. What I had craved was a Coke or lemonade. But there had been no one to respond to my cries. I was not going to ignore my husband's. I brought him a glass of water from the bathroom and guided it to his mouth. He took a few sips, giggling about his pepperone trip in between small gulps.

The nurse kept telling me that Nando had to sleep. He would see better, feel better, be able to eat a meal, if he would just stop talking and take a rest. Eventually he did, but it took almost half an hour.

March 8, 2009

Bloody business

I asked the doctor why he wasn’t familiar with the insulin equipment we’d used and his response was textbook French: "Madame, I am a doctor, not a nurse. If I need to know a patient’s blood sugar, I ask the nurse to do it. Also, I am an anesthesiologist. A specialization in diabetes is not within my purview. Chaq’un a son competence."

Murderously I thought to myself, "YOU are a doctor, asshole, which is more than I am. YOU knew or should have known that my husband is a diabetic. You BET it is your business."

March 6, 2009

Sugar shot

The doctor had brought a needle for the insulin but I didn’t want him to administer anything before knowing how much/what strength Nando needed. My husband was coherent enough to insist that I fetch his testing instrument from the toiletry bag in the bathroom. The doctor and nurse hadn’t a clue how to use it. So he explained to me in English and I did it (except for the blood prick itself) and gave the results to the doctor. His sugar was 264.

That’s high, said Nando, concerned in spite of his buzz. When the others asked what was normal, he told them "120 or so." Meanwhile, I dug the grey insulin pen out of my husband's medicine bag, and the doctor set it on 8 as per Nando’s instructions, and administered the dose. Then they left, with the nurse promising to bring him some food immediately.

March 5, 2009

Pepperone nose

Nando, meanwhile, was laughing. "What a trip!" he kept saying. "Boy am I stoned. I am a pepperone. I want to scratch my nose but I can’t find my nose. Hahaha."

He wanted to know where he was and where I was and what time it was -- the latter question he repeated often. He also kept insisting that his nose itched but he couldn’t find it. So I scratched it for him while he laughed delightedly.

As stoned as he was -- and he DID realize he was stoned -- he had the wherewithal to insist that his blood sugar be tested with his portable tester. So the anesthesiologist was rounded up, along with a nurse, to help Nando figure out the correct insulin dose and administer it.

March 4, 2009

Raccoon man

When I was led back to our room, five steps away, Nando was lying in the bed. Without my contact lenses or glasses, I had a hard time figuring out what, if any, had changed. His eyes looked darker, as if he had two black eyes. When he insisted on closer inspection, I put on my glasses and saw that his eyes were in fact blackened, lightly swollen, with little flecks of blood along the rims of the eyes. I wasn’t sickened by the sight so much as frustrated by my inability to comprehend what had happened.

February 14, 2009

Fat harvest

The fat harvesting would be from one leg only. So I asked Dr. Delos to remove it from my left side, as my right knee has been giving me problems for some time. He obligingly drew a large black circle on the inside of my left leg just above the knee. "If there are scars," I thought, "let’s keep them all on the same side." The scars from my dog attack were on the back of my left leg below the knee. (As it turned out, there were no permanent scars from the grand cru distillation).

February 7, 2009

Fat farming

I knew from Helene that he would be taking fat from one of my legs and injecting it into the lines running from my nostrils to the ends of my mouth. The fat above the knees is the best for this, she had explained briskly. I immediately thought of my plump expanse and decided it was DOC quality. The fat they’d be taking, in a process identical to liposuction, is grand cru fat, I mused. Why can’t they take a LOT of it? The deal is, they stick a needle into the leg and siphon off the fat. Then they run it through a machine to harvest the grand cru and they throw away the rest. They process the fat to make it right, and then they inject it into my mouth from the inside.

February 4, 2009

Silence through salivation

“You have a lot of loose flesh above your eyes. But you don’t have much of a pouche (bags under your eyes), none, really. But we may have to pull some of that skin up anyway, to keep everything in proportion.”

“Aren’t you going to take a picture of my face now? I look like Halloween. It’s neat.”

He thought I was joking and ignored me. But I was serious and asked the same question of the blonde nurse. She too ignored my request and gave me a pill to dissolve under my tongue. Not to be swallowed with water, but to dissolve in my saliva. Maybe they wanted to shut me up.

February 3, 2009

Small mark-up

Dr. Delos greeted me. He was now dressed in green. He had a camera and took pictures of me front, side, angled, looking up and down. He then took a magic marker and began marking up my face, making comments as he stroked.

"You have a small face."

"Does that make it harder?"

“No, just different.” I had a quick flashback to my conversation with Fabrizio Giugiaro of the famous car-designing dynasty, when he was explaining the difficulty of designing a small car as opposed to a large luxury vehicle. It’s easy to design luxury when you have a lot of space, he’d said, and more of a challenge to make a small area look elegant. Delos has the same challenge, I thought to myself, only he isn’t going to admit that to me. Maybe he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. But I know the limitations of a small face: how many models are famous for their small eyes and pixie features?

February 1, 2009

Hello, baby dolly

While Helene had me sign the same form as Nando, she explained that he would be taken first. That had already been established (in my mind) because of his insulin problem. We had discussed it with the anesthesiologist in October.

Then there would be a young person who had a quick intervention. Then me. Best for last?

A few minutes after they had breezed off, a blonde nurse came in and led me to the room outside the block, the operating room catty-corner across the hall from our bedroom. I was wearing my little white lace-trimmed nightgown, baby-doll style. “Is this okay for my operation?” I asked her. I figured the white might not be practical -- blood drips and all -- but it did look hygenic. Plus the neck was scooped and there were two buttons as well, so it wouldn’t pose problems if I had to pull it over my head and my head were . . . sensitive. “Ça c’est parfait,” announced the nurse.

January 31, 2009

Wrong line(s)

Meanwhile, I tried to tease them. "It’s late. I thought you would be operating by now!"

Teasing a Frenchie. By now the lesson should have sunk in. “Oh, M. Delos has already done his rounds at the clinic,” Helene protested seriously.

“You mean down below at le Centre du Santé?”

“Oh no, rien a voir avec le clinique. That is a centre for thalassotherapy."

I hadn’t figured out what the connection was between the two facilities but this was not the moment to pursue that line of inquiry.

January 30, 2009

Tout va bien?

We both slept some more. At 7 am a nurse opened the door. “Tout va bien?” "Oui," I said. Nando was sleeping. Okay, she said, you can sleep some more, and she closed the door. Hmm, why bother to wake us up just to tell us to go back to sleep? I wondered. This isn’t exactly a hospital where they have to wake you up to take your temperature and blood pressure.

At 8:30 am Helene and Dr. Delos came in. She was in nurse’s green attire. He was dressed as I recalled from our previous visit: navy blazer, ivory pants, white shirt, dark tie. The very essence of Celebrity Surgeon.

“Tout va bien?”

"Yes," I said. Nando was struggling to wake up. Helene had one of the documents we’d signed and mailed to them last month, and she was waving it under his nose. “There is something you forgot to sign,” she said, and he signed it.

January 29, 2009

D-Day (Demolition Day)

I awoke at 3:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep for awhile. The traffic noise was constant but it only interrupted my thoughts when I let it. That is a difference between Nando and me. He focuses on such things as traffic noises, obsesses about them, identifies whether a motorcycle is one cylinder or two, how big is the truck, how many tires does it have. I tune it all out. It’s only the outside world of ambient noise; it doesn’t intrude on the real world inside my head. Or so it seems.

I could hear my husband tossing and turning. I was too. I tried to sleep lying on my side -- classic fetal curl -- because, I figured, my face would be so bruised that the fetal position wouldn’t be possible for quite a while. I was right about that, but not because of the bruises.

January 28, 2009

The unexamined face . . . ?

One thing I did mention was that I had had a headache the day before and had tried one of the suppositories, both as a dry run and as an alternative to Prontalgine (my mainstay for such attacks, but I wasn’t sure it would be acceptable under present circumstances). "The pain killer doesn’t seem to work for me," I reported. But she brushed that off. After all, a headache was hardly the same as the kind of pain awaiting me (little did I know!).

When she was leaving, the paella arrived. It was basic stuff, not very good. I’d asked for a Coke but that request was ignored. The caffeine maybe? Or the French resistance to Yankee globalization? Nando had requested unfizzy mineral water and that’s what both of us got. Plus a fruit for dessert. I ate in spite of myself. I was hungry. Also, I figured, I wouldn’t be in condition to eat the next day.

After the paella and before we turned out the lights, I asked my husband, "Why are you doing this for me? Because you love me or because you are ashamed of the way I look?"

"Oh, Cipo. why do you ask me these academic questions? You know I hate questions that are too deep, that I have to think about."

January 27, 2009

Sizing us up

It was supposed to be a little joke but oh boy! these French. It took her a few moments to catch on. Then she forced a little laugh. Her job, it seemed, was to size up how nervous we were and to calm us down so we’d feel better and sleep better. So far, so good. But it did not appear that her job was to explain WHAT would happen the next day.

Later Nando remarked that Helene was "very well trained". She was kindly (in a French way), reassuring (idem), alert to OUR respective states of anxiety; in short, on a reconnaissance mission the night before the assault.

I asked her if she was Annick, the woman to whom I had spoken several times by phone, also brisk, confident, reassuring. No. She seemed surprised.

January 25, 2009

Hungry for humor

Of the other two single bedrooms, one was occupied by a woman who had been "lifted" that day. I never saw her, only the bed with the covers undone and a light on. The third bedroom was unoccupied.

Eight pm. On the early side for a normal dinner but wasn’t it a bit late for people who were supposed to stay light the night before an operation? At five minutes to eight, a knock on the outer door. Dinner? No, a bristling blonde French woman whose hair was tied back in a chignon. "Bonjour. Comment allez-vous?" (Hello. How are you?)

"Bon soir. Je pensais que vous etiez le diner. J’ai faim." (Good evening. I thought you were our dinner. I'm hungry).

January 24, 2009

Dumb or dinner?

"I’d suggest something light," said Shorthair. "You’ll be having surgery tomorrow and you don’t want anything too heavy on your stomach."

As if the thought hadn’t occurred to me too. I wasn’t tempted by the page with the salad and crudites she suggested, and flipped through the pages aimlessly. Nando picked up the booklet. "How about paella? It comes in orders for two people." Done.

We placed the order at about 6:35 pm. I was already hungry. Nando said he wasn’t but without half an hour he announced that he was down in sugar and when was dinner going to arrive? I went looking for one of the nurses. "It will arrive at 8 pm." I went back to give my husband the bad news but in the meantime he had fallen asleep. I tried to read in bed, but the light was on my left, so when I picked up the book, the shadow fell directly across the page and I couldn’t see well. It was too late to ask Nando to change beds so I tried sitting cross-legged at an angle to compensate for my left-handedness. That wasn’t comfortable. Every time I reached for the light switch, by accident I wound up hitting the nurse’s button instead. Dumb or dumber would dutifully show up a few minutes later, and I would feel even dumber explaining what had happened.

January 23, 2009

In or out?

What to do about dinner? Were we supposed to go out to eat? Eat by a certain hour? Not eat? What were our options? For dinner, we were told, it was best to order something from outside and eat in our room. The gates of Chateaux Sylvaine close at 8:30 pm and no decent French restaurant would open its doors before 8:00 pm. So what should we do? Nando was inclined to go out. He gets claustrophobic in enclosed spaces. And we both knew we’d wind up becoming very acquainted with this room over the next 36 hours.

Shorthair disappeared for a few moments, then announced that Dr. Delos said it would be okay if we wanted to go out for dinner. Just be back by 10:30 pm. They would delay locking the gate and activating the downstairs alarm system on our behalf. We weren’t excited about that prospect either. Nando was tired and neither of us knows Marseille. The two nurses hadn’t been able to suggest any decent nearby restaurants. So we opted for "dining at home". Shorthair brought a little booklet of the kind distributed in hotels and tourist offices with takeout menus from a variety of Marseille restaurants.

January 22, 2009

Comparison shopping

"I can see why Nicole prefers to have her interventions done in Paris," Nando said dryly.

"I can see why too, but I don’t think it's the room. The one night most people are here, they are recovering from surgery and I don’t think they are much concerned with what the room looks like. It’s afterwards, when you are hanging around in between the medical checks. You can’t compare shopping in Marseille to shopping in Paris."

The staff this night consisted of the young overweight stupid nurse (or attendant) and a young, short-haired nurse who spoke some English. Their standard answer to every question I fired at them was "You have to ask Dr. Delos." Great. "And when do I see Dr. Delos?"

"Tomorrow, before and after the intervention."

January 21, 2009

Room with a view (noisy)

She motioned us to turn right, down three small steps to the patients’ bedrooms. There are three bedrooms, two very small with single beds (I caught only a quick glimpse as we went by) and the third the double we were to occupy. It is the one with an ocean view, a square room with salmon-colored walls, about 12 square meters with two separate beds made with white sheets and covers and rolled-up pillows in the French fashion.

A bathroom with a large mirror and shower but only one small towel and no tiles, plus the inimitable separate toilet room with cheap bronze wallpaper, poorly applied. At one corner of the bedroom a cupola with small windows where we deposited our bags. A white cabinet for surgical instruments, two white wicker chairs, each with one throw pillow, double French doors looking out to the sea. A great view but at the price of great noise down on Corniche Kennedy.

January 19, 2009

Facing the unknown

When he returned, he nodded that I was to pick up the suitcase from the car and follow him inside. Inside the double doors to the left there was a conference room with a long table, boardroom-style. To the right a metal sign saying, "Dr. Delos’s office upstairs". Through a second set of opened doors, I saw a room with a small bar on the left, a small bathroom on the right, and three rooms with dark, nondescript chairs and tables. If this were a hotel, I’d call them sitting rooms or lounges. But they weren’t done up in any particular style; they were dark and uninviting. No celebrity decorator at this chateau.

No elevator so we had to carry our suitcases up the one flight of stairs to what Europeans call the first floor (Americans would call it the second floor). At the reception area we were greeted by a dumpy young woman who seemed to think we were retarded because we couldn't understand her Mediterranean-accented French. We thought she was retarded because she couldn't understand us in any language we tried.

January 18, 2009

Cutting through the fog

We stopped at a roadside Autogrill just after Savona, and Nando had a light lunch. Another brief stop to see friends in Monte Carlo. Then on and on and on to Marseille. At least there was no fog once we hit the coast. Many tunnels, twists and turns, and, as we approached Marseille proper, the clog of holiday shopper traffic clocked in late-afternoon dusk.

However, there was no other car in sight when we pulled up in front of Chateau Sylvaine at 5:30 pm. "Maybe we should be at the Institut du Santè?”, wondered my husband. I wondered the same. There were lights on in two of the five upstairs windows at the Chateau, though, so he rang the bell to ask, disappeared behind the thick wooden double doors, and was gone for several minutes.

January 16, 2009

Twists and turns

Dr. Mariani, who owns the kennel where Homer will be staying, is a veterinarian by profession. He was in a white surgeon's jacket when we arrived. A coincidence or an omen? He was "attending to" a dog, he said. An autopsy, Nando guessed. As usual Homer got the pole position box, the one with greatest visibility to humans who might be on the grounds. It's small consolation but it's something. As we drove away, he had realized what was happening and was throwing himself against the wire bars, crying plaintively.

It's a long drive from Busto to Marseille, and it feels longer in fog. A thick winter fog covered most of the autostrada from Milan to Genova, and I did something that never happened to me before in YEARS of driving from Milan to the South of France. I -- unbelievably! -- missed the turnoff after Tortona for Alessandria-Ventimiglia. We wound up obliged to traverse the Milan-Genova route: fewer tunnels but narrower with many twists and turns. Not pleasant for me, with a headache descending and me driving at that point, to endure an extra half hour of road time.

January 15, 2009

Shivers of anticipation

Awake at 6:30 am, up to wash my hair comfortably for the last time in who-knows-how-long, feed Homer the last of the dry bread. I finished the carton of milk so now there’s nothing perishable left behind in the fridge.

Errands: Nando went to the hospital for the umpteenth blood test, I to pay our gas bill and car insurance, plus deposit my most recent client check. Then we were off in the car with Homer, who was initially joyous to be traveling with us. But he began shaking after five minutes. I could feel the shivers beneath his taut silver skin. He knew.

January 14, 2009

Christmas canaries

Nando had spoken with John, who said that Nicole had been basically a mess for three weeks. First week red, second week blue, third week yellow. "Well," I said brightly, "I’ll be a veritable Christmas tree, changing lights and all. Right in the spirit of the season. Doesn't matter as long as I am more or less okay for the cruise in January."

The cruise had been my idea. Our 20-something sons were coming to visit us after New Year's, and it had been up to me to plan a vacation that would be suitable for them and us. I figured that bright sunshine was not a great idea in the first months after a facelift, so I had booked us on a cruise to the Canary Islands. Sun and swimming for those who wanted it, namely the three males in the family; sightseeing and cultural excursions -- and lots of time to read books on a comfortable deck chair with sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat -- for me.

January 13, 2009

What becomes a Martian most?

In packing for our post-operation mini-tour of Provence, I considered the fact that my head might be sensitive after the operation. An understatement, but what did I know! So I tried to pack blouses and sweaters that buttoned from the front rather than pulled down from the top. I did include one grey jersey pullover because it had a large opening, and that I used almost every day. It is the very antithesis of a fashion statement, but is warm, comfortable, and practical. In retrospect, the little green sweater was the major space waster because it has a small opening for the head and no buttons. It's a bit of a tug to pull on under normal circumstances. Under the circumstances in which I found myself, I never touched it.

Thinking that we might wind up in a nice restaurant one night or two, I included one long black skirt, stockings and dress shoes. These were useless items. We did eat in some nice places, but nothing that couldn't be handled with a pair of pants and my cashmere hounds-tooth jacket. Anyway, who cares what a Martian wears?

January 12, 2009

Paws for packing

My dog Homer knows that something is up because he sees the suitcase being prepared. He has been agitated these last few days because of some females in heat in the neighborhood, and the sensation at home that something is amiss is adding to his turmoil. I wish I didn’t have to be away so long. I also hope I won’t have a problem with his jumping on me during my first days back. He is tall enough to reach my face with his paws when he leaps up, and his nails scratch without his being aware of it, although he is a big, gentle gangly guy.

January 11, 2009

Pain . . . in the neck

Medicine is not recommended while driving. Well, that’s cute. How are we supposed to get from Busto to Marseille? Okay, there will be two of us in the car, we can pinch each other awake. Among the goodies prescribed for me is a box of suppositories for "doleur". Oh the French, they do love anal ingestion! The good thing is that this stuff has codeine, meaning they are serious about the prospect of pain. I woke up today wondering what I would do if I got a headache, and sure enough I got a headache. It's worsened over the course of the day but "rien a faire" I don't know if I can take my beloved Prontalgin today. So I’ll have to suffer with it. Maybe Nando will take pity and rub my neck. But he has been in an unpleasant mood all day. Perhaps he is nervous too?